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OPINION

My best friend: Remembering Thomas Edwin Loughridge

By Tom Vrhovnik Special to the Times

A rather formal sounding name. For me, he shall always be wise ol' Tom, which he humbly was. Our deep friendship spanning the past four years, so blessed in the time God gave us. Is one ever too old to make new friends? Tom and I, both approaching the age of dirt, proved otherwise. Sadly he passed away Nov. 14, 2020. Here are some memories of Tom's life as he shared with me.

Tom Vrhovnik, left, and his best friend Tom Loughridge

Thomas Edwin Loughridge, born Dec. 23, 1934 in Willoughby, Ohio as the only child of Charles and Lucie Loughridge. Charles a photographer, Lucie an accomplished pianist, who spent more time with their professional interests than with their son.

Finally, at age 8, Tom went to live with his mother's grandparents, Oliver and Emma, on their farm in nearby Painesville. From their love and discipline, he learned much about life, farming, projects, and chores. And he had his horse, every boy's dream.

Two years later, when back home, now decimated by financial loss, Tom built a little place out back of his home, a place to be alone and free from the discord of his family's life.

Following graduation from high school. in Painesville, Tom attended nearby Hiram College, Upon completion he began his near lifelong teaching career which included positions in Ohio, Colorado, and eventually Apalachicola.

Tom and his first wife, Audrey, gave Tom two beautiful daughters, Kathleen Malcolmson, in Houston, Texas, and Heather Buono, with husband Mike, and Tom's only grandchild Peter, in Maui, Hawaii.

Tom confessed to not being the father he should have been, nor having the peaceful home for better nurturing his daughters. In the end, it was the healing of their relationships over these past years that meant so much to him.

Tom and Janyce met while teaching near Grand Junction, Colorado. As they became serious, Janyce confessed looking for someone intelligent, tender, sweet, sensitive, nice body (!), and understanding of her complex ways! Tom's definition for a mate, much simpler, “Beautiful in all the important ways.”

Following two years of dating, Tom one evening said to Janyce, “By the way, should we get married? Let me know in the morning!” They actually married twice to be married once: First in church, Dec. 14, 1945, and then in Janyce's parents’ home two weeks later. Tom became her man for all seasons, for the next 45 years. Janyce became his “Jewel” and as she attests, truly understanding of all her needs.

Tom and Janyce made St. George Island their home in 1990, Tom teaching high school science at the Apalachicola High School. Except for a five-year absence in the early 2000s when they went to care for Tom's mother in Ohio, Tom and Janyce have had an active part in Forgotten Coast life. Maybe Tom's greatest gift was teaching, how he challenged his students. We met a former one in Dollar General who said, “Mr. Loughridge, is that you? I remember all the things we blew up in science class. You were the best!”

How privileged Tom felt to write for the Franklin Chronicle, sing in the Bay Area Chorale Society, being a member of the Panhandle Players, both acting and directing. His fondest moment was directing “The Time of Your Life” by William Saroyan, a play he first saw in high school, which inspired his interest in acting. Then, 25 years later, having a part in the play and finally, in 2017, directing this Pulitzer Prize winner.

He was a deputy sheriff and an architectural consultant, and enjoyed reading, including the comics, with J.R.R. Tolkien his favorite author. Tom was well-respected by the Quora online community for his intelligent, thoughtful answers. He was grateful for his faith walk with the St. George Island United Methodist Church, as council member, liturgist, and choir member and director.

Wise ol' Tom was truly a Renaissance man, loving life, and sharing his God-given gifts freely with others. His health compromised more recently, the miracle of medicine keeping his cancer at bay for the past 10 years. His pain level in recent times at a level five. Yet, he never complained. He simply loved life. Loved people. Smiled broadly. Truly walked his talk. Beloved by so many. He leaves a legacy for us to emulate.

A memorial service is planned for Saturday, Feb. 20, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. at Mango Mike's, across from the Beach Pit Restaurant on St. George Island. Masking and social distancing will be required. All are welcome.

Any memories or thoughts can be emailed to tjloughridge@gmail.com or tdvrhovnik@yahoo.com. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be given to the Panhandle Players or the St. George Island United Methodist Church in memory of Tom.

When he is not on St. George Island, Tom Vrhovnik makes his home in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.